Scoop: Peat-free gardening – The Advocate-Messenger

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BY SUSAN JONAS

Danville Garden Club

Do you know where your potting soil comes from and what it contains? If you’ve been gardening for a long time, you probably appreciate peat moss. It can be bought alone in bags or bales, or as a main ingredient in almost any growing medium.

Peat moss improves the soil’s ability to hold air, water and nutrients. It’s also lightweight, perfect for hanging baskets and pots. I’ve been using it for years.

I first heard the term “peat free” from Monty Don, the charmingly crumpled presenter of the long-running British television program Gardeners’ World, which is available here on Amazon Prime.

I fell in love with Monty and its garden during our long, lonely quarantine winter and learn something new with every program. There are enough episodes for the rest of my life; the show has been broadcast weekly for 20 years.

As he repots seedlings and improves the soil in his large garden, Monty keeps reminding viewers to use peat-free compost. After hearing this for the umpteenth time, I finally had the brains to ask why and do some research.

It was new to me, but Europeans have been concerned about peat harvesting for 50 years. The UK will banned the sale of peat from 2024.

Like me, you’ve probably never stopped asking where your peat moss came from, provided it’s a good thing as it’s natural and organic, like cow dung or compost.

Now comes the bad news. In contrast to manure or compost from garden and kitchen waste, peat is not a sustainable or renewable product, at least not on a human scale.

Peat comes from wetland plants such as peat moss, grass and reeds, which decompose very slowly in low-oxygen water. It holds water like a sponge.

But there is a dark side to this story. In bogs, peat forms less than 1 millimeter per year.

This peat in your potting soil took hundreds or even thousands of years to form. If left to its own devices, it would turn to coal in millions of years, then diamonds in millions of years. These bogs do not renew themselves that quickly.

Worldwide, peat bogs occur mainly in the northern hemisphere. Although there are bogs in our northern states, most of the peat sold in America is harvested in Canada, the world’s largest peat exporter.

Moors play a crucial role in combating climate change. Peat binds a third of the world’s soil carbon, more than forests. Draining bogs and extracting the peat releases carbon into the atmosphere instead of leaving it trapped in the soil.

A bog is a hard-bottomed depression in the landscape that has collected and collected rainwater for centuries. By slowing the flow of water, bogs help with flood protection.

Without the entry of groundwater or streams, the water in a bog is acidic and poor in nutrients. These wetlands support unusual plant and animal life by providing habitat for rare or endangered species, including a variety of orchids and insectivorous plants such as pitcher plants and sundew. Many species of birds use the muddy environment to nest, eat and sleep.

What can we do to protect this environment? Monty Don reminds us that we can choose alternatives to peat, even though it is perfectly legal to sell in America.

A number of materials are equally effective, sustainable and easy to replace in the environment. Coconut is one of them. (It is pronounced COY-er or CORE.) Coconut is the grainy fiber around a coconut shell that is left over from the processing of the nuts. It is an excellent substitute for peat moss when ground to a fine texture. Coconut is light and holds even more water than peat.

Since no coconuts grow in Kentucky, coconut comes from tropical countries. If you object to buying imported material, there are local options like leaf mold, composted bark, wood shavings, or rotted sawdust.

Not all garden centers have peat-free compost and potting soil. If enough people ask about these products, they will soon. You can now buy bags at Mulch 2 Go in Harrodsburg.

As I said earlier, gardeners can have a huge impact on the environment. A couple of flower pots on the terrace for pollinators will also help. By choosing organic methods, avoiding chemicals as much as possible, using native plants, composting and now going peat free, we can change the world for the better.